This book is classic Tom Robbins in the sense that almost every page has some hilariously humorous play on words, or unreal observation about real events, including a lot of incisive commentary on the subject of Washington's allegedly wooden teeth. (I kept wondering if he got knot holes instead of cavities, and whether he used Terminix for dental services*)
That said, this is not one of his best books by a long shot. It starts slowly, works up to a purple passion and then lands flat on its squatty Buddha-esque rear end. The tortuous tale twists around a feckless female Filipino stock broker, facing the fall of the fickle stock market over the Good Friday weekend, frantically forming far-fetched formulae to foil her forthcoming firing. Her acquaintances include a traditionally built psychic, whose fall-back occupation is watching home movies of the lonely and attention-deficient, a philanthropic Lutheran real estate broker who desperately wants to marry her, and last of all, a born again Barbary ape with a yen for banana popsicles and larceny.
While living through the worst days of her lives, she meets a tattooed ex-broker recently back from Timbuktu, and tracks him to his den of decadence beneath a bowling alley. Through this earth shaking incident, not all of which could be blamed on the rise and fall of the bowling pins, she has an Alice in Wonderland experience involving a distant planet, a toothy Japanese doctor who is said to have found a cure for cancer, an inscrutable Indian and a whole lot of amphibians.
Highly pseudo-philosophic, with unlikeable characters and flimsy plot, the main thing this has going for it is the dry humor of the word play, and all the rain in Seattle can't wash that away.
*Not a Tom Robbins quote, but it might have been if I didn't write it first
on January 3, 2012
Spoiler alert -- the book's purpose is to help you understand that "...you thoughtlessly presumed that evolution was over with, that it had achieved its goals, then petered out. You, like millions of other arrogant chauvinists, had taken it for granted that the human species was the end product of the evolutionary process, its culminating and crowning glory. How could you have held that notion for an instant?" (Quoted from the book.)
I read this in my mid-20s and it (I mean this sincerely) changed the path of my life forever. This book has become an important aspect of the lens through which I perceive new experiences and make choices.
on November 29, 2003
I am wrapped in unfathomable disappointment, having just finished Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. I don't know whether this is simply the worst novel Tom Robbins has written, or whether I grew up while waiting around for him to write another book. Perhaps the disappointment is not so much with Robbins, but with the realization that I might have really remained so naïve into my 20's as to accept these rambling philosophies at face value without seeing through the tired old agenda of attacking everything about the culture that produced me. It's like brutally exposing all of your own family's flaws without regard to the fact that the family across the street is no more hip and enlightened than your own....or worse, because Robbins does seem to acknowledge that other cultures are just as flawed, which leads him to either idolize fictional peoples from bygone eras or sink into full-blown misanthropy.
It is ironic that a Google search for the title of this novel, with its central theme of "don't buy, get high", returns only websites selling the novel. No enlightened debates about the theme, no additional information about the factoids he cites, no search for truth and purpose. Just book sales.
Nonetheless, I'm not an aging hippie so this is not central to my disappointment. I was with him until the last 15 pages, where I found myself saying out loud, "WHAT is she DOING?" Perhaps he thought the twist (or lack thereof) at the end was a brilliant device for subverting the reader's expectations and adding a skin of cynicism to the entire theme, but I felt cheated, made worse by the second person voice which insinuated insult as well. The reader is set up to believe this is a story about redemption. After all, the whole thing takes place during Easter weekend, what could be more obvious? And the "born-again" monkey? Or maybe it's just that Gwen is so immoral and exploitive that the reader can't imagine why she's worth reading about unless we are to witness her transformation. But, the monkey turns out not to be born-again after all, just the same old thief. And Gwen isn't born again either, she too remains the same old thief. And there's that second person again, pointing the finger directly at YOU as though to say, "dear reader, you are the Fool in this deck of cards". I don't know what Seattle is like, but I can't imagine where Robbins would get the idea that most of us are self-centered and materialistic, much less incapable of change. Indeed, it is the very transformations that come with age that lead many of his most loyal readers, and I count myself among them, to become disillusioned with his shallow lecturing and formulaic plots. Would it have been too predictable to have his characters change, become better? Perhaps. But it all seems pointless if they don't. Like a hippy who never grows up.
Still, for all that, I love Robbin's quirkiness, his sense of humor, and his masterful command of language. Only he could delight me with descriptions of Peptol Bismal as the color of "Flamingo diarrhea". There is no other novelist who makes me pause, reread sentences, and spend a moment just reveling in the language.
I also enjoyed the way he managed to articulate for me the real reasons why I'm so annoyed by new age goddess worship (kudos to Q-jo on that one). And just when you think Robbins is shoving stereotypically leftie propaganda down your throat, he comes out of left field with the perspective that to pity and cater to the homeless is to denigrate them further by denying them the power of their own choices. I certainly didn't expect a lecture on personal responsibility, but he did make me think. Too bad this was the only page in the entire novel that did.
I agree with the other reviewers, don't choose this book as your first Tom Robbins novel, and skip it entirely unless you're a huge fan (and even then keep your expectations low). I disagree, however, with reviewers who imply that Tom Robbins is the only alternative to John Grisham or Oprah recommendations; on the contrary, Robbins is no less "pop" as novelists go, and such thinking betrays a serious underestimation of the rich book choices for anyone who cares to look beyond the new releases.
Robbins normally blends the most creative and unlikely characters to form an intriguing story, but in this case what's so weird about a fat psychic? Is there any other kind? A greedy stockbroker? That's cliché, not creative. A presumptuous, pretentious anti-establishment 'shroom eater? I've met him (and her) lots of times, and he's never struck me as particularly insightful. A straight-laced Lutheran real estate agent? Am I supposed to think he's wacky just because he owns a monkey? Please. The characters are no more creative than the tired theme trotted out from past novels. You want quirky? Try "The Baron in the Trees" by Calvino. And I just can't get over my hatred for Gwen, from the shoddy treatment of her father to her exploitation of her devoted boyfriend to endangerment of the poor monkey, all of it growing progressively worse in the last pages and all for no good reason other than to force me to walk in the shoes of someone devoid of any redeeming quality other than her looks and her pitiful need for security after her unstable childhood. But, everyone's got a hard luck story.
on September 15, 2003
This is the fourth Tom Robbins book I've read, and even though I enjoyed it, _Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas_ is my least favorite so far (the best being _Still LIfe With Woodpecker_). One of the things I adore about Robbins is that it's wonderful fun to discover who his characters are going to be: in _Skinny Legs and All_ an anthropomorphised can of beans, dirty sock, and spoon are featured; in _Frog Pajamas_ we get to experience life with a 300 pound psychic, a former jewel thief monkey, and an unscrupulous, materialistic stockbroker after a market crash.
One of the problems I had with this particular novel involved Gwen, the stockbroker. I just couldn't like her. I realize that her obsession with money and material objects was part of Robbins' point, but I just didn't enjoy reading almost 400 pages about someone I could not respect. I also found that as the book got closer to its conclusion, Robbins became more and more preachy (through the voice of Larry, the other main character). I know that it was necessary at that point for the reader to understand the theme of the novel (it happens with his other books as well), but Larry's explanations are pages long and I found myself skimming them.
As with the other Robbins novels I've read, _Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas_ is extremely interesting and creative; the reader never has any idea what he will come up with next. In this case, the reader learns more about amphibians, Sirius A, B, and C, and rectal cancer than she would ever think possible. I still recommend this book, but if you've never read Tom Robbins before, don't start with this one.
on July 20, 2003
... I do believe that Tom Robbins' work is like strawberry ice cream; either you like it or you don't. Robbins has once again managed to juxtapose the most eccentric of characters, the strangest of personalities and somehow make them fit together. That's one thing I love about this author. His sense of sarcasm is unparalleled. But it isn't only sarcasm and dry humor for the sake of poking fun at life that makes this book worth reading. Tom Robbins uses these characters and their outrageous situations to teach, editorialize and explore life on all levels in a way that will make you laugh and cry about your own state of existence. The question I ask is "Do I take myself more seriously, or should I take myself less seriously?" This is a question Tom challenges me to look at. Take it with as many grains of salt as you wish, but be prepared to look at the world through the colored lenses of Mr. Robbins mind.
I've had this book in my library since it was first published, and finally decided to read it. When I first purchased it, I read the first two chapters and put it down. It was harder to get into than the others. Although the first one-third has some trouble gaining momentum, stick with it. It gets better.
The only trouble I had with it is that there seems to be too much happening for just a weekend in real time. But then again, if Mr. Robbins can convince me that a bulk of human knowledge was a gift from amphibians from space, I will let that one go.
I've read most of his novels quite some time ago, my favorites being Jitterbug Perfume and Still Life with Woodpecker. I read them at a time in my life when I could have been one of the characters. Now that I've gotten older, I found that his work still intrigues me, and I am going to read some of these books again.
on February 23, 2003
This book kept getting worse and worse, until the end, I found myself skimming pages, tracking only the plot to see if there were any twists of interest or import, only to find more of what packed the preceding hundreds of pages - self-centered, pretentious drivel passing itself off as "on the pad" enlightenment and - yikes - philosophy.
To wit: no character development, no story, just archetypes parading around Seattle while the reader is lectured to in the second person. Situations conveniently set up to give Robbins a platform from which to lecture his frog/Timbuktu/alien philosophy (I'm sorry, I never quite got all that). Of course, the message to not be so material-oriented is hit upon, which is all well and good, but 400 pages worth is a bit too much for me. It's fun to be able to use the term "ad nauseum" in a review!
For all his bible and faith bashing, Robbins wastes a lot of pages espousing some funky mystical philosophy about amphibians. Gotta admit, I skimmed most of it - I usually like to get from point A to point B in any piece of printed matter, not indulge an author's egocentrism.
Robbins passes himself off in this one as a real-life Q-jo, the severely overweight psychic in the novel - soothsayer, all-knowing mystic; yet his overblown, hyperbole-laden prose left me feeling exhausted and detached, as if some wacked-out Branch Davidian had followed me for several city blocks, haranguing me to join him on the spaceship (or the "pad," I guess in this case), and I could not shake free from him. Like a man who reaches a breaking point - in the city one can confront the harasser and tell him to bugger off - I wanted to tell this book to bugger off each time I slammed it shut at night and flipped through the remaining pages, groaning, "80 left, 70, 60 ... won't this book ever end and please oh please stop lecturing me and is this a novel or a new-age philosophy class at the community college and I don't give a darn about Gwen and wow Larry Diamond is just too cool and isn't it only obvious by reading even the liner notes that Gwen will ultimately become as cool and enlightened as Diamond because she follows Tom Robbins' guidance so why am I even reading this?" But I kept reading. My bad.
This one is written as if a a left-wing Ayn Rand wannabe on acid received his first computer with a word processing program installed - it's just as black/white, and it uses the same Rand technique - novel as soapbox, as tool. Which is fine for 18-year old conservatives looking for a voice (in the case of Rand), and "liberals," I guess, (in the case of Robbins). Disclaimer: this review is not meant to bash liberals, because for the most part, I am one politically. Made this book rather simple, though, and in my view dull.
One last comment. I gave this two stars because a lot of his metaphors are really clever and funny. HOWEVER ... there are too many attempts. Every sentence contains a "like" "is" or "as" and some sort of comparison, to varying degrees of cleverness. Really. It gets so tedious ... hitting on one of five metaphors throughout the book is like a comedian hitting on only one of five jokes throughout a show - ouch.
I read Jitterbug Perfume and Skinny Legs and All about 10 years ago, and I just remember them being so much better ...
on January 2, 2003
This is a subversive book, as subversive as they get. Tom Robbins managed to put into it all that matters: mushrooms, Tarot, Dogons, dolphins,the Nature of Reality, Sirius B, God, as well as the mysterious amphibian human ancestors, the Nommo which are supposed to be in a telepathic contact with the human race. Written with the metaphorical bravura and wit that have become Robbins' trademarks, the book follows Gwen, a wannabe bookie at a Seattle brokerage house as she grapples with a series of unforeseeable events which include a market crash, a kleptomaniac monkey, a Van Gogh loving Native American, rectal enema and Larry, a recent graduate from the Timbuktu University. Tim is a master of the art of "living on the Pad". While his book is consistently funny and has a couple of excellent sex scenes, the characters, the plot and the style of writing are rather similar to other R. books. The female protagonist is spunky, sexy, naïve and lacking something that only the male protagonist can provide: spiritual guidance. Despite all the joking (which I enjoyed), the undertone of HAFP is essentialy moralistic . Larry Diamond (whom I suspect to be a Robbins Doppelganger of sorts), is especially tedious with his endless sermons and unfunny misogynic quips. Nevertheless, the message when taken out of its pajamas is positive: it is about taking risks, listening to the Great Mystery and en-joying oneself.
on December 12, 2001
This story is about one disastrous weekend in the life of Gwen, a Filipina stock broker in Seattle. On Friday, the stock market crashes and her career is at stake. Her boyfriend (whom she doesn't like that much) is looking for his pet monkey (doesn't like him either) whom he has bought from a French jewel thief and is afraid will start thieving again. She has a strong attraction to a former stockbroker-turned-world-traveler/philosopher (and she doesn't like him either.) Her 200-pound psychic best friend (you guessed it -- she doesn't like her either!) has disappeared without a trace.
What makes this book entertaining is how Robbins keeps us guessing on whether or not HE likes Gwen. She is complex enough to be likable and heinous at the same time, and you keep reading to see if she will learn a lesson as she strives to solve all of her myriad problems before she has to meet with her boss on Monday. You have no clue what Robbins has in store until the very last paragraph, and even then it's a doozy.
on July 22, 2001
Fair warnings: this book is not for the faint of heart, the easily disgusted or those who don't appreciate verbal kalidescopes. Written in the second person ("you" instead of "I" or "they"), this book engulfs you, not like a warm blanket, but more like a fog through which you can only see a couple of feet - those feet, however, are astoundingly clear. The novel is a love story, a hate story and a story about the weird ... that goes on when you're not looking. If you don't believe in miracles, monkeys, the Tarot and the incredible ease in which a very large woman can vanish into thin air, go buy some John Grisham instead. If you can approach this work with an open mind, a hazy sense of self and a seriously good nightlight, give it a try. Just because a plot is slightly unbelievable does not mean the book should be discounted - rather, I think it opens the reader up to the possibility of happenings they never imagined. Hey - one day your boyfriend might also ask you to search for his monkey in your overweight, missing neighbor's apartment. Don't forget: he's a sucker for a banana popsicle.
on March 20, 2000
With all apologies to Mr. Robbins, otherwise my favorite author, Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas is a snoozer. It was such a deplorable plow for me that I reshelved it after the second chapter. I believe that if you write a book in the second person that the central character (the You) should at least be likable. I didn't enjoy being a yuppie stock broker, not even for 10 pages, and after the second chapter when I was still stuck in the yuppie bar still wondering how the Nikei was going to fare still being likened to a person with whom I would never be friends, I determined I had better books in my collection that charged my imagination worlds beyond HAiFP ever could. It was very dry and I was waiting for those inspired "Holy Gasoline" passages like in Still Life with Woodpecker, or his wonderfully whimsical and dead-on similes. I suppose someday when I've finally read through everything else on this planet and don't really need an intellectual stir, I may give HAiFP a second chance. Or maybe I won't.